Behind the Mask (part 1)

From One PK to Another

Ever feel like you wear a mask to cover up who you are as a pastor's kid? Do you feel like you have to hide the real you? Growing up in a minister's home, I felt like I was always smiling through the pain or putting on a great "Christian" attitude to please the people of my father's church — but not necessarily my God. If they saw me struggling in school or in a relationship, I thought they would think less of me. If someone asked to pray for me, I could never tell them what I really needed prayer for because I figured they would think I was a gigantic sinner, see the real me and discover that I was not perfect.

I never felt I could let people in on the whole picture. I could never tell them that Sister Suzie Hats was mad at my dad again and threatened to leave the church or that my mother was going to have to look for part-time work because the church board wouldn't give my dad a much-needed raise. I eventually got to the point where I was more comfortable being alone and bitter than having to hide who the real me was in front of everyone.

I also couldn't let anyone see my own anger and pain. There were times when I knew that my dad was dying inside because his congregation had hurt him. I wanted to run up on the platform and scream at them every Sunday morning, but I knew I couldn't. Ever felt that way?

As a pastor's kid, how do you handle these feelings? How do you stay sane behind the mask? How do you come out on top? How do you become comfortable with who you are and where God has placed you?

Let me share some of the thoughts that rattled around behind my mask for many years. Perhaps you will be able to identify with them.

"I feel so alone and I can't talk to anyone about it!"
I remember struggling with this especially in my early teen years. It seemed like ages since some one had come up to me and sincerely asked how I was doing. I wondered if the people in the church even knew I was a real person or if they were just blind to my needs, though I knew that I was the one who had pretended to be something I wasn't in the first place. Because no one ever expressed concern for me, I felt I could never share my burdens, sins and problems with others.

But I eventually learned that God was truly a great resource. I remember one night in particular that I felt completely alone in the world and I was crying from the hurt in my heart. That night, like never before, I felt His presence encouraging me, comforting me and telling to keep pressing on. I realized that night that He would never tell on me or blab out my sin to the whole congregation. He wouldn't get fired because of me, and He would never let me down.

Jesus says that He will never leave you nor forsake you. He won't let you go through this alone. Realize that there are thousands of PK's all around the globe that know exactly how you feel and are or have been in your shoes. They are asking the same questions as you and sometimes feel just as lonely as you do.

"Everyone is looking at me and talking about me!"
Do you feel like your life is on display for everyone to scrutinize and talk about? Have you been hurt by what people have said about you, either in front of you or behind your back?

The Bible says that, when we are weak, He is strong. Don't let the hurtful or critical words that people say get to you. You may be saying, "There is no way I can just let what they have said go." But if you don't, you will end up never trusting anyone, always being bitter and, in the end, being very critical of other people.

Realize that, as a pastor's kid, you hold a special fascination to others. Some wish they could be like you. Some wish you wouldn't take the spotlight they desire themselves. Some are merely convicted by the perfect image they think you project and can't wait to see you slip up so they can feel better about themselves.

You'll need to understand that this comes with the territory. Whatever their reasons, they will likely never stop looking at you or talking about you. So, instead of getting upset, just let God deal with them. Let Him help you love them as He loves them.

When I remember the unfair things others have done to me over the years, I think of Christ on the cross. Picture how they falsely accused Him and brutally beat Him. They nailed Him to a rugged cross and tortured an innocent man. He died because they didn't accept Him. They were critical of Him and constantly watching Him, waiting for Him to sin and mess up. But He died on the cross for them even after they hurt Him because He loved them so much. I know you and I are not Christ, but we should be imitators of Him, even when others are unkind.

I'm not suggesting that you to let people walk all over you, talk awful about you, and then just take it. You have a right to expect respect. But learn to love people in spite of what they say about you. Christ did! Remember that God made you just the way you are. He knew that you would be a PK. Be proud that God would choose you and your family to serve Him.

"God didn't call me to be in the ministry — He called my parents!"
This is a myth. In truth, to some degree, He called you just as much as He called them. He knew what He was doing when He gave you to your parents. He never makes mistakes! He chose you to be a PK. He knows that everything you experience in your life will shape you into the adult He wants you to become. You are the one who chooses to either let those experiences make or break you.

Be reminded that God has an individual plan for your life. Walking with God is a journey. Your journey will probably be different from your parents, but no less authentic. You may never be a pastor or even a Sunday school teacher. You may instead become a writer, a professor or the greatest plumber or mechanic that the world has ever seen. But know that God has a plan for your life and wants to be a part of it.

Your parents are not greater in God's eyes than you are. He doesn't look at you and say, "What was I thinking when I placed that imperfect kid with those perfect parents? What a mess!" He placed you there for a reason. Find that purpose! Discover God's will for you personally! Dare to shape your own dream! Even if it's just becoming the world's greatest plumber, do it with enthusiasm and joy, knowing that God has made you the way you are for a purpose. You are important to Him.

"It hurts when I hear people criticizing my parents and me."
It's hard to say why people are so outspoken about those who sacrifice so much for them. Are they just mean, or do they not really understand what it's like being in ministry? There were times when I would have loved to tell people to keep their comments to themselves, but the Bible has a better solution.

In Romans 12:14,19-20, it says, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. ... If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so, you will heap burning coals of fire upon his head."

The people in the church are not your enemies. Instead of getting upset and carrying it around with you, look behind the words at what is hurting them and causing them to say such things. Learn to love them in spite of what they say or do. Realize that, no matter where you are, people are people. They will be cruel one moment and wonderful the next. This is normal human behavior because we are all sinners. Try to see the good in people. This is hard, but can be done. Daily, place these people and your hurts into God's hands. He is the only one who will be able to deal with their hearts and make them change.

"If I had to do it all over again and could choose, would I still choose to be a PK?"
When I ask myself this question, I'm sometimes amazed to find how easily my answer is "Yes." For starters, where can you be so entertained by the interesting variety of people God has made? Where can you see the fascinating inner happenings of a church? Just like you or anyone else who has lived in a pastor's home, I have outrageous stories to tell that most people would never believe.

For example, I remember the time when there was a mentally deranged woman who would hide in the bushes across the street from our church every Sunday, wearing a bright red hat. She thought we couldn't see her! Bet you know someone similar.

Then, there was the time my father was called at 3 a.m. to go and pray for someone who had an itch that wouldn't go away. All PKs can look back on crazy moments like that. Where else would you have such humorous experiences that keep you smiling now and that you can share with others when you get older?

There really are a lot of great things about being a PK. I encourage you to intentionally look for the positive in it. For instance, I believe that ministry experiences have made me a better person. I have the most well-developed hearing since I had to sit through hundreds of sermons and listen to thousands of solos — some great and some not so great. I also have very discerning taste buds, given that I have been to hundreds of potluck dinners. I can quickly identify the best of green bean casseroles and can even tell what "foods" have been frozen for a hundred years or more.

But more importantly, where else could you get such a perspective on God's world? And where else could you see Him so actively at work in that world? I believe that, if you are paying attention to Him moving around you as a PK, you could never be satisfied with less.

I've had a unique perspective in the church as I've seen hundreds of people touched by God, saved from their sins and their lives turned around. I have seen God make a difference when no one thought it possible.

And I've repeatedly seen that God is faithful in my own life. He has always provided for my family. We have always had a roof over our heads and food to eat. But most of all, I know that God chose me to be His child and serve Him in a very special way. I know He loves me — regardless of who my parents are.

I guess that's the key to being happy as a pastor's kid — being happy first as one of God's kids. He will never let you down. He is always near and knows the real you. He sees everything you're going through. He knows you are always in the spotlight and that there are times you feel trapped. He knows that sometimes you feel like you have to wear a mask to hide the real you and that it's hard to be genuine in the midst of it all.

However, He knew you could handle it and would come out on top in the end. Shine brightly for Him. He sees the real you behind everything. He understands what you feel and all you experience. Know that He loves you regardless of what the world says or does to you. Find out what purpose He has for you in being a PK, take hold of it and hold your head up high.


(Click here for part 2)

Article copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Julianna Preble Fife grew up as the daughter of an evangelist and pastor, and is now married to a pastor. She was a student intern with the Pastoral Ministries department at Focus on the Family
when she wrote this article. She is now married to a pastor and ministers in Mississippi as of 2009.